Get local!

Had your 5 a day today?  Ate your combination of red, green and yellow fruit and veg? Had a healthy whole grain free range chicken sandwich washed down with some fruit flavoured spring water?  Excellent.  Recycled all the plastic bags and bottles that all that fruit and veg came in?  Fantastic! You’re a winner, a star on the way to a long and healthy life.  As you’re munching your way through this healthy lifestyle option, your pepper salad and whole meal pasta, have you thought how easy it would be to buy it all locally?  Not locally as in from your local supermarket, or even locally from your local green grocer, but locally as in grown locally in your local area, by people who send their children to the local school and use the same doctor as you? Now that’s a bit of a problem for most of us, isn’t it?

In my greengrocer’s today (and I know I’m lucky to have a greengrocer in my town), I could buy Spanish onions, Italian squashes, Polish tomatoes,  Kenyan beans and Egyptian potatoes.  I could not buy West Somerset beans, carrots, onions or tomatoes.  I couldn’t even find Somerset grown vegetables.  The nice girl I asked said that it’s all sourced locally: “We get it from the supplier in Taunton…” and I wanted to cry.  I wanted to cry because it’s such a waste.  Not having locally grown produce in our shops wastes time, money and fuel bringing food in from other areas.  It leaves us at risk of rising prices and food shortages. Imagine how irritating it would be if all the shops had problems sourcing food because there was a fuel shortage or worse, a food shortage.

As December 25th approaches, there are lots of opportunities to buy our Christmas fare locally. Look for suppliers of local meat, poultry, puddings and cakes instead of heading for the supermarket.  As well as supporting local producers we will be eating healthier, less processed food that hasn’t travelled half way across the world.

West Somerset should be able to produce a huge quantity of our own food. We have good soil, good climate, and lots of agricultural land and machinery. We also have a rural and agricultural skills base, with the West Somerset Community College farm and just slightly out of our area the old Cannington college and Brymore school, should we find that we need more specialist horticultural skills. Small growers need customers right through the year to maintain their income and keep on their staff, even when all they can grow is boring old cabbages.  So find your local suppliers, join a veg box scheme which allows the grower to plan what he produces, encourage farmers to diversify into horticultural crops, insist on British in the grocers, and explain why you want to eat local food. Because one day through climate change, rising prices or fuel shortages we will need to be able to produce more of our own food, and if we can’t do it now when it’s easy, we will really struggle when times are more difficult.


Climate Change, Biodiversity and Landscape

Climate change is altering the landscape of West Somerset

In recent months Forum 21 has been keeping you up to date on climate change and how it will alter the way we do things in West Somerset. In this issue we are concentrating on how climate change will make a difference to the landscape and biodiversity in our area.

We already know that the distribution pattern of many plants and animals in West Somerset has changed in recent years. The Dartford Warbler continues to increase and we are seeing more and more sitings of Cattle Egrets as they spread north due to climate change. On the down side the Wheatear, Whinchat and Curlew are in decline in this region. At the landscape level bluebell woodlands and beech woodlands are also on the decline.

We need to understand what aspects of the climate are changing. Firstly summer temperatures are increasing which will lead to drought and a greater risk of fire. Species at the southern edge of their distribution limit will become extinct, while others at the northern limits will increase.

Summer rainfall is decreasing (but not this year!) which may mean the end of wet heath and bog on Exmoor. Winter temperatures are on the increase, which has been a major factor in rendering the Red Grouse extinct on Exmoor. Winter rainfall is increasing; such a change in regional precipitation could change the crop regime from autumn to spring sowing which would have knock-on effects for wildlife.

Other major changes are going to include a longer growing season and a reduction in the number of frosts. We are likely to see an increase in the incidence of flooding and the increased potential for more storms and stronger winds. And of course we all know that sea levels will rise.

The most important thing to remember about climate change is that we cannot do anything to prevent it in the short term, we can only adapt to it. Our adaptation strategy must include taking advantage of the opportunities, for example taking advantage of the extended growing season. Such an opportunity can hold benefits for farmers and growers and could also extend the tourist season in West Somerset.

Climate change is caused by the burning of fossil fuels. In order to reduce fossil combustion landowners may be encouraged to develop wind farms or plant bio fuels instead of the more conventional food crops. Foresters may also be encouraged to change their planting regimes to include bio fuels as well. With summer water in short supply we may be asked to allow some valleys to be flooded for reservoir construction. All such land use changes will need careful consideration by the community of West Somerset.

Forum 21 is working with a large number of organisations to mitigate climate change and adapt to it. Together with West Somerset Council, Somerset Wildlife Trust and Somerset Environmental Records Centre, Exmoor National Park and the long term records from the Exmoor Natural History Society, a Biodiversity Action Plan for West Somerset has been produced. West Somerset Council is fully committed to the actions in the plan to protect the wildlife and landscape of West Somerset.

The forthcoming Climate Change Strategy being produced by West Somerset Council and Forum 21 will consider the actions necessary to manage the impacts on biodiversity and landscape so that all aspects of mitigation and adaptation are considered.